Federation Chamber - PRIVATE MEMBERS' BUSINESS - Freedom of Speech

11 September 2023

 I'm actually very troubled that the shadow minister for communications is willing to move a motion attacking a minister and her department who are trying to take strong action against one of the most serious national security threats that we have in this country. We've just recently marked the anniversary of the Optus hacking scandal, which was a difficult time for many people, but through the guidance of our government and relevant stakeholders, we're taking tough and appropriate action to protect our national security and our democracy.

We've just come through the most gruelling pandemic in our national history where we saw the threat of disinformation and misinformation to public safety, including ridiculous suggestions that drinking or injecting bleach can safely treat a viral infection. This really worried me during the last parliament, and I did call out the previous member for Dawson and the previous member for Hughes, who were desperate for media attention, and as such, instituted a program of disinformation that reached the widest area of our country. False and misleading information about the pandemic, such as how to prevent exposure, possible treatments and the origins of the virus have been shown to have real-world consequences, including personal illness, damage and death. I certainly saw that in my electorate, where people were so frightened by the disinformation that they denied themselves appropriate treatment and died.

I called out the previous government for this. They were essentially silent on the issue. It's an absolute tragedy that we are still seeing members of this parliament distributing so much disinformation, including one senator in this place who has distributed a number of CDs and lectures on public health that are clearly false, that are clearly misleading and that are doing irreparable harm to our public health policies. This is still happening in this parliament, and it needs to stop.

Only two years ago, here, in this parliament, the member for Hughes used his position and his media platforms to dispense nothing but lies and false hope, all for his own gain and our pain. Too many members and senators of this parliament have abused their privileged roles to spread lies about COVID vaccines, lockdowns and management. A United Australia senator from Victoria has used the parliament's mail system and the MPs' communication budget to send ridiculous, deliberately misinformed thumb drives and CDs about COVID vaccines throughout the parliament and to a wider audience in the community. The mis- and disinformation within these very walls, at the highest levels of Australian politics, has been a tragedy, and when the shadow minister comes out and attacks the Minister for Communications through this motion, I must ask him: Where does the opposition sit when it comes to mis- and disinformation? Are they happy for this to be distributed? Do they really want this to continue?

The previous minister for communications, the current member for Bradfield, was going to act on this very issue, and in very similar fashion, yet now the coalition—or the 'no-alition'—sees this proposed bill as a major issue. Since when? They're reinventing themselves. This was highlighted by Paul Karp of the Guardian in July this year, when he noted that the coalition went to the May 2022 election with a promise to introduce new laws to hold big tech companies to account. They never did, of course. Since when has national security and the need to tackle disinformation been a partisan issue? I am a parent and I'm a grandparent, and I am worried what my children and grandchildren are being exposed to online. They live online. It's different. It's a generational change that we need to deal with, and anyone who thinks that we don't is crazy.

This draft bill does not empower ACMA to take down individual pieces of content. Digital platforms will continue to be responsible for the content on their platforms. The shadow minister's motion demonstrates that he misunderstands the bill, because a number of the points he raises are completely incorrect. We need to do this. We need to do this for future generations. It is very important, and this parliament needs to act now.